There was an awesome sustainability selfie opportunity at CentralWorld today: The same “plastic bag monster” that went viral on Earth Day in April, traipsing up Charoen Krung and into a 7-Eleven, was on the loose again.
This time, he was hanging out in the mall outside a large structure made of 50,000 plastic bags created by the UN Environment sector in honor of the 43rd annual World Environment Day. The structure is called “A Bangkok Minute” because the 50,000 bags used equals the same number that the city consumes in one single minute.
The bags were collected from around the city and the sign in front of the installation said, poignantly, “Our bad habits helped build this installation. Good habits can help beat plastic pollution.” The structure was built using stitching, knotting, and melting techniques by two professors at Chulalongkorn University.
The structure, and other World Environment Day installations, will remain in the mall for a week.
The plastic bag monster, whose suit is made up of about 600 bags (to represent three months’ usage by the average Bangkokian) is the project of student-run environmental NGO Grin Green International, the members of which are advised by their American teacher, Geoff Baker.
The last time the bag monster was lurking around, Baker himself was wearing the costume. Today, NGO member Andy Chen was inside, where he’d been since that morning when the Grin Green team visited the UN building.
“He’s hardcore and fearless,” said Baker of his student, who said that people had been taking photos with Chen all day. Baker and Chen both spoke this morning at an assembly at the Bangkok UN building on plastic waste.
Chen spoke about why, as a teenager and a member of the young generation, he felt passionately about environmental issues. At the mall, he said, “I think people should stop using plastic bags. I rarely use them.”
The installation featured rows and rows of colorful plastic bags, even dividing the inside of the structure into “rooms.” Some artistic soul had also sectioned the bags by color and store, allowing viewers to really stand and consider an entire wall of Villa Market or Central Department Store bags, and what the true costs of excess might be.
Another member of the Grin Green gang, Somang Yoo, has already graduated and is looking forward to college this fall in South Korea. Instead of enjoying his summer vacation goofing off with friends, he was at the mall talking to people about the environment.
“I’m really passionate about a complete ban on plastic bags and straws. The problem is really severe, like the amount of plastic in the sea. It’s a problem to future generations. Even though school is over for me, I joined these guys to attend a meeting at the UN and came here to hand out flyers and tell people what we’re doing to raise awareness.”
He said that, after joining Grin Green and educating himself, he’s cut many plastics out of his life, even starting to carry his own cloth bag. “I was never a straw fan though.” He chalks that up to culture, saying that, in his native South Korea, straws simply aren’t that popular since cups and canned drinks are generally pretty clean.
Coconuts also caught up with Adam Hodge, of UN Environment, at the exhibit, who told us that they have events around the world today centered around the “beat plastic pollution” theme and several art installations made of plastic waste going up around Asia Pacific. Among the cities with installations are Hong Kong, Manila, Bali, Singapore, and Yangon.
The campaign has a presence online as well. “We’re asking people to indicate how they’re going to beat plastic pollution today. We want people to take a selfie with a reusable item to demonstrate how they’re giving up single-use plastic and pledge their support and tag their friends.”
Those interested in participating — use the hashtag #beatplasticpollution.
He noted that the plastic issue is “a global problem but it’s amplified here because of the origin of a lot of that plastic is here.”
“We need everybody on board, corporations need to change, the government needs to change, but individuals need to foster that change. If you have a million people giving up plastic straws or plastic bags, then companies aren’t going to offer them anymore. And then governments find it easier to legislate for change.”
As people swarmed the bag monster for photos in the mall and Chen posed inside his plastic bag suit, in front of a plastic bag house, Baker said, “This is what it takes to get attention. It has to be sensational to keep people from walking past.”
All photos: Laurel Tuohy for Coconuts Media